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Nigeria: INEC Appeals Court Ruling Exempting Five States from Upcoming Gubernatorial Elections

(Apr. 7, 2011) On April 4, 2011, the Nigerian Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) asked the Court of Appeal in Abuja to fast track its appeal against a decision of a Federal High Court (handed down on February 23, 2011) barring the INEC from including five states in the upcoming gubernatorial elections scheduled for April 26. (Ikechukwu Nnochiri, INEC Urges Appeal Court to Determine Tenure of Five Governors, VANGUARD (Apr. 5, 2011).) The High Court found that the tenure of the governors in Kogi, Sokoto, Cross River, Adamawa, and Bayelsa will not end until 2012 and therefore their seats will not be open to contest in this election season. (Nnochiri, supra.)

The February 23 High Court decision came in response to a lawsuit filed by the governors of Adamawa, Kogi, and Sokoto. Citing a 2007 Supreme Court ruling, the governors argued that their tenure could not have ended because the regular gubernatorial elections held on April 14, 2007, were voided, forcing them to wait until 2008 to take the oath of office after re-run elections. (Court Bars INEC from Conducting Gubernatorial Elections in Five States, THE NIGERIAN VOICE (Feb. 24, 2011).) In 2007, the Supreme Court held that section180(2) of the Nigerian Constitution clearly mandated that the term of office of a governor of a state starts as of the day the governor elect takes the oath of office. (Peter Obi v. INEC & others, S.C. 123/2007, International Center for Nigerian Law (ICFNL) website (last visited Apr. 7, 2011).) The provision specifically states:

…the Governor shall vacate his office at the expiration of period [sic] of four years commencing from the date when –

(a) in the case of a person first elected as Governor under this Constitution, he took the Oath of Allegiance and oath of office; and

(b) the person last elected to that office took the Oath of Allegiance and oath of office or would, but for his death, have taken such oaths. (Constitution of the Republic of Nigeria 1999, § 180(2), ICFNL website (last visited Apr. 7, 2011).)

The INEC, in turn, argued that because the governors won the re-run elections, their tenure commenced on the day they took their first oath of office. (THE NIGERIAN VOICE, supra.)

In the end, the High Court sided with the governors. The court spelled out the specific dates on which the tenures of each of the governors of the five states would expire – Sokoto, May 28, 2012; Kogi, April 5, 2012; Cross River, August 28, 2012; Adamawa, April 30, 2012; and Bayelsa, May 29, 2012 – and barred the INEC from scheduling gubernatorial elections in these states in 2011. (Nnochiri, supra.)

The INEC filed five separate appeals against the decision of the High Court. The Court of Appeals has already consolidated three of the appeals and will consolidate the other two at the next court hearing, which was scheduled for April 7, 2011. (Id.)